To some, the word "networking" has a negative connotation as something potentially smarmy. The word often invokes mental images of people in slick suits looking to get ahead at the expense of others. In the wrong hands, networking can look like that, but that isn't always the case.
In the context of social impact work, networking is very much about engaging your community, pooling knowledge and resources, making connections with others to build a better world, and giving at least as much as you get.
Just like you would jump at the chance to connect two friends who are each looking for a roommate, other people will eagerly assist you in your search for collaboration or career advice.
Finally, being a resource to other people can be a cornerstone of your life's work from now on.
Look to build relationships not just with people who are more established in their careers than you are, but also with people at all stages of their lives and careers — you'll provide each other with immeasurable support as you move forward on your goals.
Speaking with people who currently work in your area of interest will give you an idea of the types of work that are available and how they got involved in the field.
Find people who work at organizations, on issues, and in roles you'd like to work in. How do you do this? First reach out to the people you know personally — people in your Tier One of contacts. Ask them to put you in touch with people they know, or your Tier Two.
When you introduce yourself to your new Tier Two contact, mention the name of your friend who sent you. Ask for a 15 minute informational interview in person (or over the phone if necessary).
Your Tier Two contacts are usually happy to share their knowledge and experience with someone who is just starting out. Especially when you have a mutual connection.
Don't expect miracles from such contacts; you probably won't get a job offer over the phone, but do expect encouragement and inspiration from the conversation. And, if you hit it off, they might even have a good lead for you and become part of your Tier One of contacts.
Before you meet with them, prepare cogent, meaningful questions that you can't get answered on their website. You don't want to sound incompetent and waste people's time.
And please don't ask for a job — if the organization isn't hiring, asking for a job can put the person you're chatting with in an awkward position and can sour the feeling in the room. You may express your enthusiasm for their organization and say something like, "I'd love to work for your organization if I ever had the chance."